Establishing a career as a young professional is no easy feat. Rather, this goal is actually a lengthy journey filled with self-discovery, experimentation, and lots of trial and error. Coming out of college, graduate school, and/or the military is a milestone in itself. Yet, most of us take little time to bask in the glory of achievement of everything we just conquered. Instead, we move straight ahead onto the next milestone, which for many of us is establishing a lifelong dream career.
What most of us fail to realize early on is that it is very rare to discover what you want to do for the rest of your life at age twenty-two, twenty-five, or even thirty. We may spend the majority of our twenties job hopping and job shopping, determined to find the perfect match; and that's okay! Cut yourself a little slack. Accepting that your twenties is a chance to truly unravel your passions, discover yourself, and experiment along the way is bound to make you enjoy the job hunt a little more. Establishing your dream career will come in due time, but it does take time.
Here are ten practical, logical career tips for the young professional attempting to establish a career:
- There is no clearly defined pathway to success. Sorry, it's not quite that simple. Even if you went to college and successfully earned a bachelor's degree in marine biology, for example, there's no guarantee you're going to land a job as a professional research coordinator or go on to earn your PhD. Of course, there's a chance, but there is no clearly defined pathway before you that will lead you straight to this success. You have to make it yourself. Your degree is a stepping stone. It demonstrates you are academically qualified to apply for a position, but it by no means bridges you directly to an established career. You're going to have to work for the job you want to earn your royalties and rewards.
- Begin making connections early on. Many of us find ourselves qualified for little better than entry level work right out of college. Even when your first job or two seems like a complete waste of time and isn't even remotely connected to what you majored in, learn to network. Networking is a powerful tool that makes lasting connections. You may encounter new faces during company-wide meetings and discover someone from a different department that shares your employment values and goals. Introduce yourself! Invite him or her out to grab coffee during your lunch break to start a conversation and see if this new connection will open doors for you. Sometimes it really is about who you know and it could make all the difference.
- Cooperating with others is a continuous part of career development. It's very common to encounter challenging colleagues, bosses, and even clients we don't quite get along with. Sometimes it's a power struggle, other times it has to do with ego, expectations, and/or baggage. Whichever scenario fits your situation, understand this happens at any job — even your dream career. In the workplace these personality dynamics shape the relationships between everyone. Learn to work with these types of characters because chances are they won't ever disappear. Making peace with your differences will ultimately improve production and polish your career development.
- Do your best to stay at a job for at least one year. Starting off in entry level roles is often degrading and miserable. Most everyone has been there, between the dumping ground of miserable tasks that has become your to-do list to the lack of recognition for your hard work, it comes with the territory of being a young newbie in the office. Even if it's a struggle to get out of bed in the morning, the job you have is better than the alternative: unemployment. Do your best to push through for at least one year. By doing so you'll learn a lot about perseverance and you won't have to worry about explaining any significant unemployment gaps when you begin interviewing for something better and more fulfilling down the road.
- Finding your dream job is a process of elimination. Most of us don't decide at age five we want to become a doctor and actually grow up to pursue it. As a child, any job can seem enchanting and feasible. As a young professional it's important to remember that finding your career niche is a process of elimination. You probably won't wake up one morning with a lightening bolt of inspiration striking you. It could happen, but more often than not you'll learn what you want to do for a living by trial and error. Sample different jobs during your twenties. Try knocking out a year or so at a couple different spots before setting into a career you love. You may think a job reads as the perfect fit on paper but actually going through the daily motions of the job's responsibilities could shock you. This is a great time to look into internships, as well. They require less commitment and formality, and give you a taste of the job before you sign your contract. Remember, it's a process of elimination.
- Remain open minded. If you don't really know what career niche you belong to then there is no harm in being open minded to pretty much anything. Coming out of college with little to no experience is the perfect time for you to experiment with different job opportunities. Even if you have never considered becoming a marketing specialist, research coordinator, admissions counselor, or financial analyst, allow yourself some time to experiment. You may discover skills and talents that you never even knew you had. Be open minded to any possibility that comes your way.
- You will probably fail, but get back up again. There may come a point during the early stages of your career that you find yourself making mistakes. You know what? Brush it off. With any job there comes a list of rules, regulations, and expectations to abide by. If you slip up once or twice all it proves is that you're only human, just like the rest of us. No one is perfect. We all fail at something, but it doesn't mean we are failures. It means we are learning. There's a learning curve with any new job and we have to take risks to become better. Not taking risks is risky. Allow yourself to slip up but get right back up on your feet again.
- You are so much better than you know. At work you are going to be tested. You will be purposefully put in situations that will challenge your instincts and force you to act quickly. Use these opportunities to demonstrate your resilience. When you're new on the job and your colleagues and boss are busy with their own agendas, things will happen that will require you to act off the cuff. If you find yourself bombarded with customers as a receptionist with no back up, politely ask clients to take a seat while you check-in your customers one-by-one. Or, thank everyone for their patience. Courtesy goes a long way and you will come out on the other side so much more resilient and better than you ever knew.
- Adopt a "what can I give" rather than a "what can I get" mindset. We work to earn a living. Our money pays our bills, cares for our families, and if we are lucky allows us to take vacations and buy the things we want in life. Even though we are looking to get the things we want, we must learn to give first. Adopting a "what can I give" mindset improves your attitude. Consider the types of skills, talents, experiences, and unique traits you can offer a company. You have to give before you can receive. Once an organization sees all of the wonderful things you can do for them, they will be more apt to offer you things in return, like the dream title, salary, and benefits you've been waiting for.
- Follow your pursuit of happiness. You will learn in time that work is about finding your craft and polishing it every single day. If your real passion is writing, art, music, travel, and more, follow it. Determine your pursuit of happiness and see where it guides you. There's no greater reward than loving what you do and doing what you love. Truly being passionate about your work shines through and others do notice. Once you bring that attitude to the table, there's no stopping your professional development and subsequent success. Everything will fall into place.
These top ten practical career tips are essential for every young professional searching for their dream career. There is no magical recipe that will establish your career for you. Rather, finding your career niche must come from within. Only you know the type of work that inspires you and makes you happy. There will be ups and downs along the bumpy road it may take to get there, but never give up. Perseverance and passion payoff big time!